I finished Elie Wiesel’s memoirs last night. He is a Nobel Peace Laureate who lived through the horror of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I find his writing a sharp, challenging contrast to the kind of sanitized spirituality found in most Christian leadership bookstores.
We had an inexplicable confidence in German culture and humanism…We kept telling ourselves that this was, after all, a civilized people, that we must not give credence to exaggerated rumors about an army’s behavior. (27)
Moshe the beadle… madness in his eyes. He talked on and on about the brutality of the killers. “Listen to me!” he would shout. “I’m telling the truth. On my life, I swear it!” But the people were deaf to his pleas. I liked him and could not bring myself to believe him. (29)
Yet we practiced religion in a death camp. I said my prayers every day. On Saturday I hummed Shabbat songs at work. I was determined to remain a Jew even in the accursed kingdom. (82)
Sometimes we must accept the pain of faith so as not to lose it. And if that makes the tragedy of the believer more devastating than the nonbeliever, so be it. To proclaim one’s faith within the barbed wire of Auschwitz may well represent a double tragedy. (84)
I will never cease to rebel against those who committed or permitted Auschwitz, including God. (85)
I could spend the rest of my days…testifying to those who died in the storm of ashes. Wait. One must not say too much. The secret of truth lies in silence.” And that is the dilemma. To be silent is impossible, to speak forbidden. (89)
The barbed-wire kingdom will remain an immense question mark on the scale of both humanity and its Creator. Faced with unprecedented suffering and agony, He should have intervened, or at least expressed Himself. Which side was He on? It is in this capacity that He shatters our shell and moves us. How can we fail to pity a father who witnesses the massacre of his children by his other children? Is there a suffering more devastating, a remorse more bitter? (105)
The truth must be stated and restated. The suffering of the survivors did not end with the war, society wanted no part of them. Instead of greeting them with flowers, instead of hailing their survival, begging for forgiveness for their indifference or rancor. “What you’re back? Auschwitz must not have been so terrible after all.” (145)
Tens of thousands of men and women eked out an existence in the same camps, in a German environment, under German eyes, because America and Canada, France and Britain, were unwilling to help them rebuild homes and futures. (146)
Asceticism warns us that language is sacred, that words must never be uttered lightly…We talked of the relation between suffering and truth, suffering and redemption, suffering and spiritual purity, suffering as a gateway to the sacred, the prophetic, rabbinical, mystical point of view. (150).
For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the are the people of the light. (Luke 16:8)
I was deeply moved by a front page article in the New York Times yesterday, along with Angelina Jolie’s editorial a day earlier, about her courageous decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. She writes: “On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved…I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience.”
While Angelina does not, as far as I know, consider herself a Christ-follower, we can learn a few things from her.
Leading out of brokenness and vulnerability is powerful. She went public on an issue few Christians have been willing to talk about.
We are imperfect human beings with limits. Beautiful and rich as she may be, she humbly acknowledged that she is not in control of life. Her body will return to dust like the rest of us.
Our identity is to be deeply grounded in God’s love for us in Christ. Interestingly, Angelina models a more solid sense of self than most of us. She grasps Genesis 1-2 that she is a person with infinite value, a body/spirit – not simply a body. This enables her to speak honestly and serve others. She notes: “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”
Jesus invites us to learn from “people of this world” in Luke 16. I think this is one such occasion.